Duke Johnson Jr., the Houston Texans’ new running back, has never been a starter in the NFL since the Cleveland Browns drafted him back in 2016. He has been the Browns’ lead pass-catching back, but he is not an every-down back like Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt.
When Johnson was traded to the Houston Texans two weeks ago, he was expected to be in a committee with starter Lamar Miller. Johnson would be the pass-catching back, while Miller would be the every-down back.
That all changed on Saturday, August 24. In a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, Miller went down awkwardly after a tackle that was not even two minutes into the game. Miller laid on the field and was later carted off. Sometime after the game, it was confirmed that Miller had torn his ACL, and potentially his MCL.
What does this injury mean for Johnson? It means that he is poised to be a primary starting running back for the first time in his NFL career. While enjoying a successful career at Miami, starting every game after his new teammate Lamar Miller was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, Johnson has only started a few games in his NFL career, most notably the Browns’ 2015 season-opener against the New York Jets. Johnson had his most successful season in 2017, when he split duties with Isaiah Crowell and caught 74 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed 82 times for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
There is no guarantee that Johnson starts all 16 games, however. There have been rumors that the Texans may try to sign a veteran running back to complement Miller. One guy the Texans are rumored to pursue is Carlos Hyde, Johnson’s backfield mate for the first half of last season.
While I think it would be a good idea for the Texans to go and pursue another running back, I think whoever they end up signing (if they decide to do so) should back up Johnson. It would not be fair for Johnson, who has been presented this golden opportunity for the first time in his career, to back someone up. Johnson has his calling, and he deserves this opportunity.
We have seen a lot of successful two-running back combos in the league, most notably Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams for the Carolina Panthers in 2009, and the duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara in both 2017 and 2018 for the New Orleans Saints. Johnson and Miller looked to be another dominant, but Johnson and whoever the Texans decide to sign could be another. When Miller returns to action next year, I expect him and Johnson to trouble opposing defenses.
Will Johnson start? I am not sure. But I hope he does because he has a golden opportunity right in front of him.